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The curious case of the OKC hustle

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The Thunder dominate the NBA’s hustle stats, but why does their defense oftentimes look so poor?

NBA: Oklahoma City Thunder at Golden State Warriors Cary Edmondson-USA TODAY Sports

Thunder fans have been treated to an up and down season thus far. This surprises no one. The highs have been as high as any team’s in the league, and the lows ... well you see where this is going.

Regardless of being stuck in the mess that is the Western Conference, the Thunder have been consistent in one category all season long: hustle. One quick glance at the NBA’s advanced hustle leaders, and you’ll notice plenty of familiar names.

NBA Hustle Stat Leaders

If you were to take a look at the per game statistics, it begins with deflections. The leader? Paul George. He sits at 4.3 deflections per game.

Next is loose balls recovered per game. The leader? Russell Westbrook. He averages 2.1 loose balls recovered each night.

Third is screen assists per game. The leader? Steven Adams. The big Kiwi put up 4.8 per game, which is tied for the league lead with Andre Drummond.

When the NBA expanded their hustle stats two weeks ago, Adams was averaging 11.3 box outs per game — also first in the NBA.

Some may say these stats are just box score fillers, but they’re actually rather consistent with each player’s styles. PG leads the NBA in total deflections (256) by a whopping 29, while Russ is atop the total loose balls recovered with 123, 18 more than second-place Jimmy Butler. So they really can’t be that misleading, right?

We all know the Thunder consistently play hard, and this is a nice little confirmation, but it leads me to an interesting thought question.

Why does this not translate to consistently solid defense? The Thunder defense can look really really bad at times, but how is that possible when leading all of these categories? Does this mean advanced hustle stats are pointless?

Last night against Orlando, we saw the Thunder give up 38 first quarter points to an 18 win team. The Magic shot 14/20 from the field, which included 6 three pointers. The issue of perimeter defense has become an issue in OKC since Andre Roberson went down, and it was evident once again last night.

So if the Thunder are hustling with the best in the league, how come they can’t pick up the slack on defense? A thought provoking question if I’ve ever heard one.

Have at it in the comment section, WTLC community.